Just a quick heads up for fans of smart (I hope) talk. In just about an hour, at 5 p.m. EDT (10 GMT, 2 PDT) I’ll be trading views with science writer Jennifer Ouellete (AKA Jen-Luc Piquante), proprietor among much else of Cocktail Party Physics, which gig gives me the excuse for this pic:
The conversation will take place over at my more or less regular monthly gig on Virtually Speaking Science. Listen live or later here. Alternatively, come join the virtually live audience in Second Life. Podcasts of VSS, including the work of my co-host, Alan Boyle, can also be downloaded at the iTunes store. Lots of back issues there — of particular current interest, you might check out my conversations with climate scientist Michael Mann; science studies scholar Naomi Oreskes, and science journalist and “framing” advocate Chris Mooney.
Jennifer and I will be leaping off from the impulse that led her to write her most recent book, The Calculus Diaries. That’s her account of being an admitted math-phobe coming to grips with the beauty and practical value of what is truly one of the handful of greatest human inventions ever. As I blurbed for her — calculus allows one to think rigorously about change in time and space; it just doesn’t get bigger than that, really.
We’ll go from the book to the latest kerfluffle about what kinds of math should be taught in school (see the algebra controversy sparked by this piece. For a good reply, see this.) More broadly we’ll use the question of how to present the actual importance of thinking mathematically in everyday circumstances to think out loud a bit about an issue that is bugging me more and more these days. To put it in personal terms — I’ve been doing science writing/film making for public audiences for just about 30 years now. Looking at the convention of one of our major political parties in which that party declares its denial of anthropogenic climate change, evidence based medicine, investments in science education and research and so on and on and on (without even going into the anti-evolution lunacy, nor the pseudo-science with which it justifies government regulation of ladyparts and … you get the picture) — looking at all that and more, it’s depressingly easy to conclude that my career has been a net negative.
Yes, I know, correlation is not cause, which is why some of us still believe that milk drinking does not lead to heroin addiction. But really, for all that we live in something of a golden age of popular science writing and communication other media, it is past time, in my ever-so-humble opinion, to think about what, if anything, we should be doing to reach a mass audience we clearly have not fully attracted, much less persuaded.
Finally, Jennifer is near the end of a book that has proved much more challenging to write than she blithly thought going in. I’m just starting a book I’m convinced I have got under control. (Thus every folly begins, in innocent confidence…) So we’re going to talk just a bit of shop: how every book project trips you up, and what you can do about that terrible moment when you are finally, utterly, deeply certain that you computer is going to reach through the display and throttle you; just put you out of your and everyone else’s misery.
Should be fun. Check it out when and as you have a notion.
PS: As a DEW — Sunday, September 9, 8 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. MT, I’ll be talking one of my old books, Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science with the incomparable Desiree Schell on Skeptically Speaking. I’ve been on the show once before as a guest of Marie-Claire Shanahan, and it was a lot of fun. Desiree is a fabulous interviewer, so I’m looking forward to this one too. But it’s relevant to the post above, if only because the book that both nearly killed me and most taught me to write was Measure…in which I succumbed to what I have decided is the dreaded second book syndrome. More to come…
Image: Edgar Degas, L’absinthe, 1876